Monday, August 13, 2012

Creamy Zucchini Soup with Spinach and Corn

I made this outstanding soup the other day and raved about it on Facebook.  But then the great blogger and photographer Wendy at Healthy Girl's Kitchen did a post about it today.  Here's hers.

I would note that I substituted soaked almonds for the cashews and was thrilled to have fresh from our garden (and the farmer neighbor's corn patch) all the corn, zucchini, basil, thyme, and oregano.  What a treat!

The Bad News, But Not Hopeless

Dr. Arya Sharma has a brief post today about "Why Diet and Exercise is Not a Treatment for Obesity."  In brief, heavy people who lose weight must work much harder to keep it off than do those who are naturally the lower weight.

It's true for me that I have to eat like a person who weighs dozens and dozens of pounds less than I do to maintain my current weight at nearly 15% below my highest weight.  And I still have a long way to go.  But I'm not giving up: although I'm currently eating about 1200 calories and losing nicely, I'm much more satisfied with those calories as nutrient-dense foods than I could ever be with that number of calories in Special K, aspartame-sweetened yogurt, Lean Cuisine, and Slim Fast.

My typical day looks like this:

Breakfast -- 1/3 cup (dry) oatmeal made with one piece of fruit and 1/2 oz nuts

Lunch -- giant salad of mixed greens and other veggies with 1/2-1 cup beans, 1/2 oz nuts, and one fruit

Supper -- different cooked veggies, usually one serving of starchy vegetable or rice, either beans alone or 1-3 oz of fish/poultry/meat, a fruit

Snack or Dessert (sometimes) -- a couple of fruits in a smoothie with flax and kale, or a slice of Ezekiel bread toast with peanut butter and a little homemade jam, or just some fruit

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Falafel Salad

Faced with a burgeoning crop of elderberries and blackberries, especially, with tomatoes yet to come, hubby decided we needed a chest freezer in addition to our two side-by-side refrigerators, and I have to say I'm glad I didn't have to beg him. As I write he and youngest son are fetching it from the local Sears store.

But as I have tried to reduce bulk in the other freezers, I discovered a quart freezer bag with the "dough" for a recipe I made probably a year ago, Baked Falafel, from Isa Chandra Moskowitz's Appetite for Reduction, pp. 121-122.

I remember being a bit disappointed the first time around that the patties didn't firm up and tended to stick to the pan, and when I made some up last night they still had a bit of that trouble, but nothing a little more experimentation can't fix. They're pleasantly mild, but I will make them with higher onion, garlic, and spice content next time.  Here's another blogger's sharing of Isa's recipe, with a photo.

For supper last night I served this with raita and diced tomatoes, and it was very nice.  For today's salad I realized the falafel, being almost entirely chickpeas, would be great for my bean content.  So this is what I did:

Falafel Salad

Several baked falafel patties, toasted if not freshly made (Appetite for Reduction, pp. 121-122)
Mixed dark salad greens (I included some broccoli slaw in mine)
1/2 small green pepper, diced
1/2 tomato, diced
1/4 small onion, diced
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 oz. pepitas (or sunflower seeds), toasted

Assemble veggies and top with crumbled falafel, raisins, and pepitas, then dress with raita (I used about 1/3 cup) and toss.


1/2 cucumber, mostly peeled and diced
1 cup yogurt (soy is fine)
2 T. minced mint leaves
1 tsp. honey (I had to substitute 2 tsp. lemon curd, and it was pretty good!)

Combine ingredients and let sit for at least thirty minutes before serving, to meld flavors

Verdict:  Very Good.  I really like this change from my usual greens-and-beans, fruit-and-nut lunchtime salads.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Refreshing Approach to Weight Loss

I have always appreciated the work of Arya Sharma and Yoni Freedhoff, two family physicians who really "get" the challenges of obesity management and educate the public through their blogs.  The Canadian Obesity Network, of which they are both members, has developed a great tool for physicians, and I wanted to note it here for my own reference as well as for others.

In particular, the "tool" of the 5As of Obesity Management recognizes the difference between ideal weight--what the charts call for--and "best weight"--what a person can sustain while still enjoying life.  The tool notes that 5%-10% weight reduction can make major differences in quality of life, shows the difference between classes and stages of obesity, and ultimately makes me feel more a success than a failure.  I've sustained a 10%-20% weight loss for the last five years, and though I still have a long way to go, with ongoing diligence on many fronts and course correction as needed, the work of these physicians gives me contentment with what I have accomplished even as I work for more.

Thanks, guys.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Vacation Inspiration

I enjoyed a combination science conference and anniversary celebration trip with my husband last week in the San Diego area.  On our last day, just before we went to the airport, we had lunch at the famous Prado Restaurant in Balboa Park.  I was delighted to be able to get what they call the "Market Salad," teasingly pictured below behind my husband's paella. The salad was a gorgeous creation of plain but beautifully arranged golden and ruby beets, diced tomato, diced avocado, green beans, and fresh-cut sweet corn atop mixed baby greens.

A View from Our Table, Part II

These were dressed very lightly with a dressing that could have been improved--it seemed more straight olive oil than the "cracked coriander vinaigrette" the menu promised.  But it inspired me for my latest batch of nut-based creamy salad dressing.

Creamy Almond-Coriander Dressing

3 oz. lightly toasted almonds
Juice and flesh and a little zest from one lime
1-2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. coriander, freshly-ground and sifted, if possible
1 slice candied ginger (fresh would be fine, but you might want to add a date for a touch of sweetness)
water to make 24 oz.

Combine all in blender and whirl until smooth and creamy.

Verdict: Very Good.  This is a very mild dressing, and I think it could use more ginger and more coriander, to really bring out that exotic flavor. The great thing is that 1/4 cup dressing is just 1/4 oz. nuts.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Clean-out-the-Fridge Wrap

The day before a week-long trip, I'm trying to use up leftovers and produce the people left behind will not appreciate, so I've tucked an unopened bag of Glory collards and one of kale into the freezer for future use and tossed out some things that are questionable. We've been out of lettuce for nearly a week, so I've been working with the other greens (including exotic lettuces from the garden).

For lunch today I'm finishing up some Chinese red bean soup. I didn't do anything particularly special with the beans, certainly nothing Asian, but they're those beautiful little round red beans from an Asian grocery in Pittsburgh. I'm also having a wrap sandwich I made up and approve of. See if it inspires you.


Smoky Kale Wrap

1/2 small onion, sliced
2 cups packed chopped kale
clove of garlic, sliced
1/2 tomato, chopped
3 large olives, chopped (I used the wrinkly black kind in non-oil brine)
1-2 teaspoons olive brine or water (balsamic vinegar might be very nice)
1-2 tablespoons plain yogurt (soy is fine)
1 whole-grain tortilla or wrap

Dry-saute the onion for a minute or so, then add the kale, and when almost done (the kale wilted) the garlic as well. Allow it to brown a little on the edges to get that smoky flavor, then add in the olive brine or water and stir to loosen the sticking bits. Spread the wrap with yogurt, then the kale mixture, then tomato and olives, roll up, and enjoy.

Verdict: Very Good. It's a bit unusual but pleasant, with deep, savory flavors. The raw tomato adds sweetness and more of a sandwich ethos.

We're off to San Diego for a scientific conference and a couple of days of R&R in the city. I'm looking forward to more healthy dining options than are commonly found in rural Western Pennsylvania. :-)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Deconstructed Salad Dressing

I have loved making some of the nut- and seed-based nutritarian dressings first inspired by the recipe collections and member posts, as well as Chef A.J.'s "Hail to the Kale" salad. My own versions of these dressings are available on this blog under the "salad ideas" tag. But in an effort to be more deliberate in my measurements of seeds and nuts, and to enjoy them fully, I have started "deconstructing" these dressings, including their components in their original form instead of blending them into a dressing.

Spinach salad with roasted garlic

Tonight, for example, I'm having a salad with a Middle Eastern spin:  dark lettuces, red onion, halved green grapes, diced cucumber, some pinto beans, one pressed garlic clove, the juice of a quarter of a lemon, a dollop of plain Greek yogurt, and some toasted pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds).

Yesterday I had a similar one with a California spin: dark lettuces, a few raisins, diced tomato, diced pepper, a mix of sprouted beans, one pressed garlic clove, a grating of fresh ginger, and toasted almond slivers.

The other day I did one with a Mexican spin: dark lettuces, Vidalia onion, diced tomato, diced green pepper, pinto beans, one mashed garlic clove, a dollop of salsa, and the juice of a quarter of a lime.  I saved the nuts for peanut butter on an apple on the side.

The key is to mix the "dressing" ingredients together with the beans and wet veggies (tomato) in the bottom of the bowl, then toss the leafy and hard veggie bits and fruits with this mixture and enjoy! I really like they way it helps me wean myself away from the idea of a dressing from a bottle or jar and to just enjoy the flavor that the fruits and vegetables give to the salad.

What are some other possibilities for this technique?

  • Tropical/Jamaican:  tomato, hot red peppers, pineapple, green onions, black beans, coconut?
  • Italian:  softened sun-dried tomato, fresh basil and rosemary from the garden, white beans, pine nuts and/or marinated olives
  • . . .
Update June 20:  Today I'm having pinto beans, garlic, a squeeze of lime, a dash of blood orange vinegar, sweet cherries, toasted almond slices, lettuces, baby greens, onion, and yellow bell pepper. It's great!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Burrito/Tostada Bar

The other day I needed to make a hearty dinner for my hungry family, and I wanted it to be nutritarian-friendly but also mainstream for family members not on the boat with me. :-)  So I created a kind of burrito/tostada bar like this:

Burritos *

Burrito/Tostada Bar
(non-nutritarian items in parentheses)

(Ground beef seasoned with taco seasoning)
(Shredded cheese)
Black beans
Finely chopped mixture of dark lettuces, onion, tomato, and bell pepper
Greek yogurt (soy is fine) mixed with sliced garlic and fresh cilantro
Corn tortillas (topped with reduced-fat cheese) and baked at 375 until crisp
Multi-grain flour tortillas

While I stood at the stove and heated the flour tortillas by sweeping them across the glass surface burner turned on high, family members assembled their own personal meals.  Mine was a corn tortilla with 1/2 oz. reduced-fat cheese used to dip up a mixture of the yogurt and salsa and beans as a dip, plus a warm tortilla with a single ounce of the meat mixture and a LOT of the veggies.  The versatility can keep everybody happy!

Of course you could use tempeh crumbles in place of the beef and Daiya in place of the cheese, though my own approach is to have very small amounts of traditional items instead of vegan items, and mostly to make the whole plant foods the major focus. You could make it even more festive with avocado and corn.

Verdict: Excellent!

* Not my burrito, but a cousin from Flickr.  Thanks, db0yd13!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Routine Oatmeal

Sounds boring, doesn't it?

But I really enjoy my morning oatmeal--it satisfies and sticks with me to a late lunch.  Here's what I've been doing lately--give it a try!

Basic Plan
1/3 cup old-fashioned oats
1 fruit, diced
2/3 cup water, give or take, depending on the moisture in the fruit
1/2 oz nuts, chopped and lightly toasted (I use my toaster oven and the chopper I keep right beside it)
spices to complement the fruit
(sweetening if needed -- I keep it to about 1/2 teaspoon of sugar with sour fruits, but dates or other sweeteners will do the job if you prefer those. Taste it first, then try the least sweetening possible.)

Combine the oats and fruit and water in a large bowl and microwave for one minute. Stir, add spices, and microwave for one additional minute. Top with toasted nuts and enjoy!

Apple with walnuts, cinnamon, and nutmeg
Apple with almonds, ginger, and cardamom
Pear with almonds and cardamom
Peach** with pecans and allspice
Banana (added for only the second minute) with walnuts and cinnamon
Sour cherry** with pecans (definitely needs some sweetening, perhaps with apple)
Blueberry (added AFTER the oatmeal is cooked) with almonds and nutmeg

Do you have an oatmeal favorite combo?  

** I use peaches and cherries from our trees that I dehydrated with my Excalibur last summer--no additives!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Today's Salad: Western Asian

School's out for summer!  And I'm back. . . .

Since the Roman world considered Turkey Asia, and India is in that direction, too, I'll call this salad Western Asian.  I like the routine of a big nutritarian salad for lunch, but I like variations, too, and making the most of the ingredients I have around.

The Basic Plan

6-8 cups mixed lettuces (I buy the 1-lb box of baby lettuces from the grocery and it lasts me a bit under a week, supplemented with other lettuces like romaine hearts or whatever looks good)
1-2 cups other veggies (leftover cooked veggies that appeal, as well as carrots, cucumber, radishes, and other things for flavor or crunch)
1 fruit (diced apple or pear is one of my favorites, but sometimes I'll do a few raisins or other dried fruit, sliced grapes, or citrus)
1/2 - 1 cup beans (chickpeas, black beans, navy beans, kidney beans, whatever -- home-cooked or rinsed from the can)
1/2 - 1 oz seeds or nuts (sunflower seeds, almond slices or slivers, walnuts, pecans, sesame seeds)
Vinegar, lemon juice, plain yogurt, and/or small amount of salad dressing to "spin" the salad in a particular direction

Making sure the salad has the beans and the seeds and the fruit gives it enough calories (300-plus) to satisfy, and the fruit gives enough moisture that the dressing is truly a condiment--just a touch. I sometimes like to create a dressing (recipes on this site) based on seeds or nuts, then portion it out so that I'm not doubling up on those.

Western Asian Variation
6 cups baby mixed greens
2 cups iceberg lettuce mix
1/3 large cucumber, diced
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 tomato, diced
1 pear, diced (apple might have been better)
3 radishes, sliced
1/2 cup chickpeas
1/2 cup Tasty Bite Madras Lentils, warmed (I just had this around -- no requirement for it to make the salad!)
1/2 oz lightly toasted sunflower seeds
1/2 oz grated fresh ginger
juice of 1/3 lemon

Put all these ingredients into a mixing bowl or serving bowl in roughly this order, then stir a bit to mix. The fruit adds most of the moisture needed for the salad, but the lemon juice and ginger added a bit of zing.

Verdict: Very Good.  I love my lunchtime salads, but I reserve "Excellent" for the really outstanding ones.